Something in the water?

I haven’t done a comprehensive peer-reviewed study of this issue, but my working hypothesis is that at certain positions in the zodiac, people start discussing euthanasia. How else could you explain that this week’s newsletter is stuffed full of news about end-of-life issues? These come from countries as distant as Australia, the UK, Spain, Switzerland and Canada, so it’s not as though they’re all drinking from the same tap.

Hopefully next week we’ll have a wider range of issues. But for a bit of variety, we have featured an interesting response to a ban on abortion in the American state of Alabama.  

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Heroism in the coronavirus epidemic

The Chinese government has taken a battering for how it handled the coronavirus epidemic. The early stages of its response were marked by denial, obfuscation and lack of transparency.

The symbol of that is 34-year-old Dr Li Wenliang. He was one of eight doctors who warned people about the virulence of the new virus on social media. Police told him to sign a document: ““We solemnly warn you: If you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice—is that understood?”

Now Dr Li is dead, one of the youngest victims of the coronavirus. An estimated 500 healthcare workers have been infected. But according to the media, others soldier on. Their dedication and even heroism needs to be celebrated.   

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Coping with coronavirus

There is a lot that scientists still do not know about the coronavirus. What is the incubation period? Are people contagious before they become symptomatic? What is the fatality rate? What are the transmission routes? Where did it originate? Do masks really work? 

With all these questions up in the air, transparency is important, especially since the virus is spreading so rapidly. But in the face of the emergency, the Chinese government reverted to form and prevaricated. The bodies of some victims may even have been cremated to keep the tally of fatalities down. The crisis is rapdily becoming a test of the real strength and resilience of  President Xi's authoritarian style. 

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More about Belgium’s euthanasia trial

Belgium's historic trial of three doctors for illegally killing a mentally ill woman in 2010 gives a glimpse of what's going on backstage in its euthanasia system. Whether or not they are convicted -- and on past form, this is unlikely -- I don't think that anyone will be able to claim that it works with clockwork efficiency and compassion. It's a sad and shabby business.

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Euthanasia on trial

The year has just begun and already we are being faced with some thorny bioethical issues, as we report in the links below:

  • Will countries which have legalised euthanasia ever convict doctors who break the law? Three doctors will go on trial in Belgium this week. The verdict will be interesting. 
  • A small hospice in British Columbia is being forced to permit euthanasia. We pay the piper, you play our tune, is the government's response. 
  • IVF researchers have paid Mexican women to donate eggs (dangerous) and to have some abortions (more dangerous). Is this an example of out-sourcing ethics and exploiting people who are poor, desperate and female?
  • Gestating babies in artificial wombs could help to smash the patriarchy. Are we ready for the challenge of ectogenesis? 

There's more... Send us your feedback. We'd love to hear from you. 

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Hungary’s desperate bid to increase its population

Hi there! We're back on track after a long gap. 2020 promises to be a big year in bioethics, with more developments in CRISPR, the Tokyo Olympics and drug testing and transgender athletes, desperate attempts by some governments to boost population, euthanasia, and many other topics, Some are represented in today's newsletter. If you have suggestions for our coverage, please contact us. 

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Extended break

Hi there, 

Sorry for the late notice, but the editor of BioEdge is taking a month-long holiday before the Christmas season. 

BioEdge will return in early January. 

All the best for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

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Dead man walking?

It sounds like the premise for a Stephen King novel, but it’s real life. Benjamin Schreiber, a 66-year-old man, is serving a life sentence for murder in an Iowa prison. Back in 1996, he bludgeoned a man to death with an axe handle. In 2015 he suddenly became seriously ill, so ill that he lapsed into a coma and “died”.

But he recovered. Disappointed that he was still alive, he appealed to have his life sentence voided as it had already “expired”.

It’s an intriguing argument. Can you live two lives? Are you the same person after being resuscitated? Or are you literally a dead man walking?

Unfortunately for Schreiber, the court took a dim view of his request.

“We do not find his argument persuasive,” wrote a judge this week. She concluded: “Schreiber is either still alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is actually dead, in which case this appeal is moot.”

This ruling will allow the citizens of Iowa to sleep easier at night, but philosophically isn’t a bit naive in the way it addresses the problem of identity? Isn’t it possible that Mr (1996) Schreiber is dead and that Mr (2019) Schreiber is a different person? If S(2019) identifies as a dead person, shouldn’t we accept his carefully considered opinion?

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About meaning and purpose

With IVF firmly established legally and socially, the status of children has become a bit murky. Initially IVF was a remedy for medical infertility for married couples. Then it became a solution for "social infertility" for solo mothers and gay couples. A recent decision by an English Court extends the logic of IVF a bit further. A judge has ruled that a brain-damaged and severely handicapped woman should be allowed to have child to give meaning and purpose to her life. (See article below.)

 Where are the rights of the child in this development? To have no father, to be raised by grandparents who may die early, leaving a youngster in charge of a handicapped mother... It seems to violate a fundamental tenet of liberal democracy -- that people exist for their own sake, not as means to an end. 

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Fight over ‘transgender’ 7-year-old raises complex issues

If you live in Texas and you're itching to write a book about something, but you're not sure what, consider our lead story today.

We're all used to the tragedy of child custory cases after divorce, but this is completely novel. Jeff Younger and Anne Georgulas, now divorced, have twin 7-year-old sons. One of them, claims Dr Georgulas (she is a paediatrician), James, is transgender and needs to start on puberty blockers soon lest he begin life as a young man. Younger is horrified. He insists that James was, is and always will be a male. 

At first a jury agreed with Dr Georgulas, but an appeal has changed this. The battle, I predict, is far from over. No doubt we will see more and more cases like this.

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